Hot weather played a factor in last week's Airgas fire

Thursday, August 28th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

New information about what caused the Airgas fire and explosions last week. The Tulsa Fire Department finished its investigation and says it was basically a string of circumstances that came together to cause the fire, which has been ruled accidental.

News on 6 anchor Lori Fullbright talked to investigators and Airgas officials and says several things worked together to cause the fire. Several days of 100-degree heat caused the 30 cylinders of propylene to expand and leak out of the safety valves.

Since the gas is heavier than air, it accumulated along the ground until it came in contact with something that ignited it, maybe a car, maybe a tool, that part, they don't know. The resulting fire and repeated explosions cost the company about $4-million. That covers paying for the 65 cars that were damaged, the trailers and delivery trucks that were ruined, repairing neighbor’s homes, putting people up in motels and getting them rental cars.

Airgas says it has already made some changes here and at its other plants around the country. Keeping cars at least 15 feet away from cylinders, moving the cylinders out of direct sunlight and keeping them less full on hot days.

Fire investigators say it's hard to tell if the cylinders had been leaking for seconds or hours before something set them off. Tulsa Fire Department Chief Skip Mason, "Propylene can accumulate and stay in an area for days. And, we had several days of heat so, they were leaking through the safety valves, so, there's no estimate."

The fire department will send a bill to Airgas for $149.150 for the cost of having its hazardous materials team work the scene. That's based on a city ordinance that was just passed. Companies can pay a yearly fine of between a $100 and a $1,000 to avoid being billed for services.

But Airgas says it didn't know of the new ordinance and didn't know it had an option, so the company plans to appeal the fine to the city council within 10 days.